25 Tips for Delivering Bad News using NLP

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Delivering Bad News

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How do you use NLP to give someone bad news which could potentially alter their lives forever? I have seen the delivery of bad news done right and wrong so many times, and I sure have received and delivered my share. Life is often full of unwanted and unpredicted change, and sometimes we find ourselves in these situations where we are the one that needs to communicate this to another human being.

Here are some tips:

Step into the shoes of the person receiving the bad news, and look back at the you over there.

1. What are you feeling from this position? How would you like to be told? What are the first assumptions and thoughts that come to mind about the present as well as the future? How will this person’s life alter specifically?

2. Consider where this person may be located. When is the perfect time to tell? What means of communication would be the most helpful, i.e. could you do it in person instead of over the phone? For instance, you may want to wait until a person is home from work, or consider any national holidays. Maybe there is a time sensitivity involved in telling someone quickly, for instance, rather hear the news from you than from someone else or read it in the newspaper. Keep in mind that the timing for the person is relevant, not your need to get it off your chest.

3. Be sensitive to the immediate need the person has: what will the rest of their day be like as a result? What is it that they need for the rest of the day? And how can you facilitate this?

4. Watch yourself delivering the news, without any sound, pay attention to your facial expression and physical behavior you will display. Will you touch the other person or not?

5. Have a cartoon text bubble appear above your head with the content of the message you are going provide. Read it carefully. Pay attention to how much emotional content of yours (instead of theirs) is inside the message, and which facts are necessary to provide and which aren’t. Carefully edit in and out any information that is to be provided in the right way you see fit.

6. Now turn on the sound and hear yourself delivering the message. What are the tonality, speed, and quality of your voice like? Alter where needed.

7. Avoid amplifying any negative state in the client. You want to deliver the message with sensitivity, yet without making it worse for them than they experience on their own when you deliver the message.

8. Break state of the client when they amplify the emotional content of the message. I call this the spiral down. Especially if they start placing themselves into a future they cannot predict and hallucinating terrible outcomes that are not proportionate. Interrupt the spiral down. Either neutralize or bring it back to realistic proportions. Consider what you would imagine your future to be like in this position.

9. Put the visual of the physical behavior, facial expression, content of the message, and the quality of your voice together. Observe how the message is told. From this position of standing in the shoes of the other person, what do you see, hear, and most of all, feel? Adjust the communication where needed. Consider different ways of delivering the message, and pick the best one.

Step into the position of any other people involved. See, hear, and feel how they would.

10. Who, other than the person you are telling, is impacted? Float your awareness into their body, experiencing the world from their shoes. Where are they when you are delivering the bad news? What will the outcome be like for them? How will they feel?

Now float your awareness into your own shoes. Your position.

11. Consider other more positive outcomes (eventually in the future.) But be respectful, for instance, someone who just lost a 30-year relationship may not need the words “you will find someone else” at that moment in time. Unless they do.

12. You want to put the person in the best emotional state possible, but depending on the message you also need to allow the person to feel whatever is appropriate. Be careful that being an overly positive person may break rapport. Especially if the message is so negative, that the amped up motivational coach is off putting. But you do want to be motivational at the same time, where appropriate.

13. You don’t know everything. You aren’t an expert on someone else’s feelings or thoughts. You also don’t know what will happen. Nor are you an expert on how they should feel. Respect that! You want to build rapport and maintain it. If you read about the 5 stages of grief, forget about those. Everyone has a different experience, and you don’t need to map that out.

14. How can you use rapport in the conversation? A feeling of trust and a bond between the two of you.

15. Step in to that point in the future as if you are giving the message right now. See, hear and feel exactly what you would while delivering the message. Pretend as if you are delivering the message. Are there any alterations you need to make? Perhaps give it another test run, stepping into the other person’s shoes again and feeling it from that perspective.

16. Put yourself in the emotional state that the other person would need you to be in the most. What fits the message you now have created inside your mind and rehearsed? For instance a combination of compassion, confidence and strength.

17. Prevent over-rehearsal. It is important to sound natural.

18. What outcome do you wish to create for the other person? Consider that carefully. And what future do you want them to imagine?

19. What state do you want to elicit in the client while having the conversation? Still being respectful of people needing to feel whatever it is that they need to feel.

20. Remember this about the other person’s needs, not yours!

21. What practical help or support can you realistically offer? Say what you are willing to commit to, no empty statements you won’t deliver on. Is there anything you can offer to cushion the blow? Make sure you communicate this clearly.

22. Be quick. Deliver the message without a long introduction. Get to your point as quickly as possible.

23. Highlight positive outcomes and possibilities (if there are any,) and lessons to be learned. I had a student once in my class who had to make someone redundant, and actually got them excited about now being able to follow their dream. An excellent reframe.

24. If you are extraverted, allow the other person to talk, and accept that silence can be OK. Prevent rambling. Sometimes it is good to cry together, and there not be any further words. Be OK with someone crying, it can be healthy and exactly what they need.

25. Understand that any transition comes in 3 phases. Phase 1) letting go of the old and the emotions that come paired with that. Phase 2) a middle phase where the old is gone and the new hasn’t materialized, often comes with confusion, frustration, despair. Phase 3) A new life, where the new way falls into to place. You need to get someone through those 3 phases as quickly as possible.

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